From Postdoc to Professor

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Tips for preparing a research statement for your academic job application.
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Most academic postings for faculty positions require a research statement. Courtesy of:

By: Shabana Amanda Ali, ORT Times Writer

If you’re a postdoctoral fellow who is dedicated to pursuing a career in academia as a professor, one of the last hurdles is the marathon-like academic application and interview process. To be considered for an interview, you need to prepare an exceptional application that will set you apart from hundreds of other applicants.

For academic faculty postings, the application most often includes a cover letter, a curriculum vitae (CV) and a research statement. For postings with a heavy teaching focus, the application may require a teaching dossier. You may also be asked to provide letters of recommendation, or the names and contact information of references. At the postdoctoral stage of training, you likely already have a few cover letters and a CV in several different formats. What you may not have, however, is a research statement.

The research statement, also known as the research proposal, is a lay-language description of your research interests and plans for your independent research program. It is a key component of the application and outlines future research plans that are often based on your current expertise or are aligned with the research focus described in the job posting.

Five essential components of the research statement are discussed in the first chapter of Making the Right Moves, a guide published by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to help postdoctoral fellows transition to a faculty position. Your research statement should:

1. Describe the problem you plan to work on, including unresolved questions in your field. Describe how you will build on existing research and contribute to the field.

2. Describe the research you plan to pursue in detail. This can be presented as specific aims or objectives that your research will achieve, and should demonstrate that you have the specific expertise to achieve them.

3. Include at least one figure (e.g., a chart depicting your projected timeline). This will help break the monotony of endless text.

4. Describe your current research, focusing on what is novel and how it can be expanded. The proposed research should demonstrate independence from your current and former supervisors.

5. List key references and your manuscripts (submitted, in review, and published).

By including these five components in your research statement, you will demonstrate your expertise in the field and your capacity for research innovation. As good practice for all writing, ask your colleagues to read your research statement and provide constructive feedback.

A few final tips: follow the application instructions (e.g., word count), embed your figures in the text, use plain language (avoid jargon), and don’t wait—start writing today.